Perspective: Differential dynamic microscopy extracts multi-scale activity in complex fluids and biological systems

16 Oct 2017

Differential dynamic microscopy (DDM) is a technique that exploits optical microscopy to obtain local, multi-scale quantitative information about dynamic samples, in most cases without user intervention. It is proving extremely useful in understanding dynamics in liquid suspensions, soft materials, cells, and tissues. In DDM, image sequences are analyzed via a combination of image differences and spatial Fourier transforms to obtain information equivalent to that obtained by means of light scattering techniques. Compared to light scattering, DDM offers obvious advantages, principally (a) simplicity of the setup; (b) possibility of removing static contributions along the optical path; (c) power of simultaneous different microscopy contrast mechanisms; and (d) flexibility of choosing an analysis region, analogous to a scattering volume. For many questions, DDM has also advantages compared to segmentation/tracking approaches and to correlation techniques like particle image velocimetry. The very straightforward DDM approach, originally demonstrated with bright field microscopy of aqueous colloids, has lately been used to probe a variety of other complex fluids and biological systems with many different imaging methods, including dark-field, differential interference contrast, wide-field, light-sheet, and confocal microscopy. The number of adopting groups is rapidly increasing and so are the applications. Here, we briefly recall the working principles of DDM, we highlight its advantages and limitations, we outline recent experimental breakthroughs, and we provide a perspective on future challenges and directions. DDM can become a standard primary tool in every laboratory equipped with a microscope, at the very least as a first bias-free automated evaluation of the dynamics in a system.